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Oliver’s New Twist

dickens dictionary outside                               dickens dictionary inside

I have extolled the virtues of reading aloud with our children several times in the last couple months. I have even mentioned that the Littles and I are reading Oliver Twist together this year. But today I found yet another reason having a read-aloud class is beneficial.

I fell in love with Charles Dickens when I first read Great Expectations at about the same age as Middle. I remember discovering the decades-old hardcover in the middle school library, but I don’t remember what in me made me decide to pick it up and check it out. I think, at the time, I was fascinated by the old cloth and thread binding of such books. I didn’t know what Great Expectations was about and if I had heard of Dickens before it was through seeing different versions of A Christmas Carol on film.  Even so, from the moment I opened the first page, I was hooked.  Ensconced.  Enraptured.  I have read a Dickens novel every year since, at Christmastime, which seems like a fitting time to dive into the world of mid-1800s England and lose myself among such brilliantly written pages.  I know more about the British government and the plight of the poor and Victorian England than I really need to.  And I never tire of it.   And reading Dickens is always like slipping into a warm blanket with an even warmer cup of coffee.

So I wanted my Littles to know that feeling.  Last year, when they were in 3rd & 5th grade, we read A Christmas Carol and made the dictionary pictured above (it is actually quite long, because if there’s one basic thing any reader can take away from Dickens, it is one kick-butt vocabulary).  They understood it! and enjoyed it so much that I decided to read my Christmas Dickens with them from now on.  Oliver Twist has 50-plus chapters, and since we read a chapter a day, we had to start early to make sure we were reading it for Christmas.  We’ve now been reading for 4 weeks—finished chapter 20 today—and the Dickens Dictionary has grown exponentially in that time.  But today—oh, I do love when something new comes from reading literature—Middle was reading aloud (they alternate pages) and he read this line:

The latter recognition was uttered with just enough embarrassment to imply a doubt of its reception..;

Except he read imply like it rhymed with simply.  A reasonable mistake.   I was thrown back to the years (about 10 of them, to my reckoning) after I first read the word vehement.  Probably in a Dickens novel when I was close to Middle’s age.  I pronounced it vee-hem-ent rather than ve-a-ment.  For 10 years.  At least.  And when someone corrected me, he did it in front of a crowd of people.  He thought I had called him a behemoth.  It was super embarrassing.  So immediately upon hearing Middle’s mispronunciation, I gave him a gentle smile and kindly told him how to pronounce imply.  And tucked it into the teacher file in my head to watch for such easily mispronounced words and make sure both Littles know how to say them right.  To save them any embarrassment in their twenties.

See, having a well-read mind automatically brings a great vocabulary into one’s life.  Being well-spoken is something we have to learn.

What about you?  Have you come across a new learning tool when reading aloud with your little ones?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Love wins,

KT

Banned Book Week (September 21-27)

When I worked as a librarian, I once had a heated discussion with my director. See, I was running a book club for teens in conjunction with the American Library Association that summer. In fact, the ALA was sending me the books for the program. I had kids in my group from age 12 through 16, and they were all bright, avid readers and seekers of knowledge. We used the study guides sent with the books by the ALA, but we often rambled off into interesting discussions of our own. Good stories are wonderful. Good stories that make us think are priceless. I hope I’m not the only person in the world who feels that way.

My director, who was nearing retirement, did not necessarily agree. Apparently.

One of the books the ALA chose for the summer book club was The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer. The book is a lovely coming-of age-story about a 12-year-old boy, Gabe, who lived in the foster care system until his uncle was found. He lived with his uncle, a crusty old hermit, for two years. At the beginning of the novel, Gabe comes home from school and finds his uncle dead from a heart attack. He’s so scared of going back into the system that he doesn’t tell anyone about the death. And no one notices, because no one has seen the uncle in years. The next day, his uncle’s body disappears and Gabe finds a note in the mailbox that reads, I HAVE A SECRET. DO NOT BE AFRAID. So begins a friendship in correspondence which leads to a lyrical lesson about how two people can save each other. The novel does something really cool aside from the story itself. Gabe is a reader. And he tells a bit about the books he reads and what they mean to him. I LOVE it when good books for young people recommend more good books for young people.

Now back to my director. We both had a strict policy of not reading books to or with our young patrons without reading them first. I had read The Mailbox and, well, you can tell from my description I thought it worthy of the young minds I was guiding. My director had not read the book. She read one of those reviews—you know, the ones that tell all the bad things about a book and why you might not want to let your kids read them—and she came into the library on a mission. A mission to ban this terrible book from my reading club. Why?

Because in the novel Gabe reads Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men! He doesn’t say, “Hey, I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and you should really try the drugs I was on when I did it.” He reads a classic novel with several important messages in it that is lucky it barely escaped making my Recommended Reading list. I was shocked. Floored. Flabbergasted. “Wait a minute,” I said to her, “we are Librarians (yes, with a capital L—it’s an important job!). Aren’t we supposed to encourage kids to read anything and everything?”

She railed about the way Of Mice and Men ends. I pointed out that The Mailbox is not the same novel and the ending of Steinbeck’s novel does not occur in Shafer’s. The point, I believe, of even mentioning Of Mice and Men, was to spark a little curiosity in the reader, to let the young reader know that there was this great book out there if they choose to read it.

Eventually, I won the battle. My book club and I read The Mailbox together and enjoyed it immensely. But I was lucky that even when I was seeing red I was able to make a logical argument for the book. It had never occurred to me that a librarian, of all people, might agree with any form of book banning, so the whole blind-sided part of the conversation did stymie my reasoning skills.

With Banned Book Week approaching (September 21-27), that memory is kinda haunting me. So I thought I would take this chance to encourage you to look at the Banned Book lists (http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks) with your children, pick a book from it and read it together. One of the most important jobs we have as parents is paying attention to our kids—what they’re doing on the internet, what they’re watching on television, and yes, what they’re reading. If we are there to guide them, there is no reason to ever ban a book. In the meantime, here are some of the books on the list that carried me right back to the feeling I had during that disagreement with my director (remember, these books are meant to be banned from everyone, not just young readers):

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

1984, by George Orwell

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck  (Ha. Ha.)

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Captain Underpants (series), by Dave Pilkey

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Here’s the thing. Banned Book Week is the time to watch Footloose. Not that new one, the Kevin Bacon one. You know the scene where the parishioners go to the library and start burning books and John Lithgow, the well-meaning but dance-forbidding minister says, “Who elected all of you to be the saviors of everybody’s souls?..Satan is not in these books.” Here he points at his own heart. “He’s in here. He’s in your hearts.” That can be said of any kind of evil, no matter your beliefs. It is up to us as individuals to keep the evil out. Sure, there are going to be books you don’t want your kids to read. But does that mean the book should be banned, that NO ONE should get to read it just because you don’t want your child to read it? I am of the firm opinion that the answer is no. Just as you wouldn’t want me coming into your home and telling you how to homeschool, I don’t have the right to tell an entire nation what they can read.

So give these books a chance. Or at least allow the rest of us to do so.

 

Love wins,

KT